Posted on January 16, 2015

It’s a little late for A Christmas Story, but do you remember the scene where The Old Man was gleefully plugging in the tree, with all the different lights, and blew a fuse? In a lot of movies, this would have been cause for despair, but through the darkness, you could hear the dad laughing happily as Ralphie explained that his old man was a master at repairing fuses. In seemingly just a few seconds, he had ran in the dark to the basement and got the lights back on. He loved it when a fuse blew. Fixing it showed again that he had mastery of his house.

That kind of anarchic joy isn’t usually felt by MDU residents when they blow a fuse, particularly if they live in an apartment. When that is the case, fixing it usually involves a lot of stairs and a lot of fumbling around in the dark. If you are going to provide the best possible service to your tenants, you need to think about simple things, like fuses, how to keep them from being blown, and how to make the lives of residents easier. It is the little things like this that create loyalty from your MDU residents, and keep you in business. Blown fuses don’t have to equal blown tempers.

Fuse box

A well-labeled and organized fuse box can be the key to resident happiness. Image from Wikimedia Commons

Do residents have access to their fuse boxes?

When designing an MDU, this is something that you have to consider. Laws vary from state to state, but there doesn’t seem to be a standard when it comes to mandating residential access to fuse boxes. This can be very frustrating. I remember the first apartment I lived in with my wife- our fuse blew for something seemingly ridiculous, like running a fan and the TV at the same time. We had just moved in, and I went to look for the fuse box. Nothing in the laundry room, nothing in the storage room. There were some basement rooms where it seemed like they might have fuse boxes, but they were locked away.

After knocking on a few doors, someone told me that you had to call the maintenance man so he could turn it back on. Well, he was at church at the time, which is a fine place to be, no doubt, but it was a bit inconvenient since we had to wait a few hours for him to get back. You may imagine that I was in a fine fettle.

It is understandable when some MDUs might not want to grant residents access to the fuse boxes. After all, there is a small but not impossible chance they could electrocute themselves, and then they could be held liable. There is also an even smaller chance that some joker could just turn it off for everyone, but if we avoided things that jerks could potentially ruin, none of us would ever do anything.

Helping residents find and fix their blown and overloaded fuses

So, stipulating that we are allowing residents access to their fuse boxes, let’s go over a few ground rules.

  • Help them locate their fuse boxes. Provide clear instructions to new residents on where they will be.
  • Make sure they are clearly labeled. If there are a lot of units, no one wants to look at every box to see if a fuse has been blown or overloaded. Have them labeled for each individual unit, and if possible, for the section of the apartment that is affected.
  • Keep safety regulations handy. A sign that says “Don’t touch if water present” can save a lot of heartache. Instructions on what to do doesn’t hurt either. Remember that even though this seems basic, not everyone feels comfortable around electricity.

A Caveat: replacing blown fuses

Some buildings still have old glass or ceramic fuses which need replacement, as opposed to just throwing the switch (these need to be replaced sometimes as well). You may not want residents replacing these for liability reasons. If this is the case, make sure they are informed about who to call and how to handle this.

Remember, it is the little things that keep residents excited about living in a place. Not that we overloaded too many circuits, but not having access to something so basic made me not want to stay in that building. It is the same with your tenants. Keeping them informed, making things easier on them, and taking into account their electrical needs and concerns is the best way to ensure they’ll stay with you for years to come.